By Robert A. Vella
As humankind marches relentlessly towards a profoundly uncertain future, there’s one political change most everyone agrees is likely to happen in the 21st century – the ultimate death of democracy. Some insist that democracy was never a good idea, and that allowing ordinary people a voice in governance was foolhardy. Some believe that democracy has outlived it usefulness, and that it is now insufficiently responsive to an increasingly complex world. Even some supporters freely admit that the forces arrayed against democracy have become too powerful to resist.
Putting aside the value and effectiveness of democracy for a moment (we’ll get back to it later on in this post), let’s examine the four main challengers to democracy and their distinct motivations:
CONSERVATISM. The philosophies of laissez-faire capitalism, Christian fundamentalism, and white nationalism, have coalesced into a generally unified political ideology throughout western societies over the last several decades. It is innately authoritarian and opposed to populist, progressive movements. Extreme manifestations of conservative ideology are equatable to fascism and are incompatible with democracy.
TECHNOCRACY. More recently, and in direct response to the rise of conservatism, centrist politicians and bureaucrats have closely allied themselves with powerful business interests for the sole purpose of maintaining the established socioeconomic status quo. This alliance is intrinsically pragmatic and opposed to ideological movements from both the political left and right. Technocracy is equatable to corporatism and globalism, and it sees democracy as an inconvenience or as a nuisance.
LIBERTARIANISM. Libertarians come in all political stripes. Some are older and more conservative, while others are younger are more liberal. What they share in common, however, is a deep animosity towards administrative authority. They believe that the elimination of government, or its severe restriction, is key to enabling a new utopia where individual freedom creates prosperity. Libertarian philosophy was popularized by novelist Ayn Rand in the mid-20th century, and it has notable followers such as Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky), his father and former congressman Ron Paul, the controversial Koch brothers and their heritage in the infamous John Birch Society. Since democracy advocates for government, libertarians are against it.
THEOCRACY/DICTATORSHIP: In the Muslim world, the fledgling experiments in democracy (i.e. Arab Spring) have been nearly all wiped-out by the ascendency of Islamic fundamentalist states and/or the reemergence of military dictatorships. Egypt is a prime example. Its short-lived democratic experiment, after the ouster of western strongman Hosni Mubarak, failed miserably because the ruling majority party (i.e. Muslim Brotherhood) ignored the necessity of secularism and pluralism in governmental policy. Their grotesquely warped view of democracy as absolute majority rule is reflective of theocracy’s authoritarian nature.
With so many interests arrayed against democracy (conservatives, technocrats, libertarians, theocrats, dictators, and all manner of totalitarians), it’s not surprising that Abraham Lincoln’s emphatic support for a “government of the people, by the people, for the people” would be in such peril today. As a consequence, can democracy now be written off as obsolete? It is no longer effective? Did it ever have any value as a practical method of governance?
These questions are inescapable, but they completely miss a most important point. Democracy, as flawed as it might be, is the only way in which ordinary people can have a legitimate voice in government. Without democracy, one of those authoritarian forms listed above will rule absolutely and ordinary people will be subjugated (perhaps ruthlessly). That alone is reason enough to fight to preserve it.
Democracy requires a highly educated and participatory populace. That is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. From a strategic standpoint, it makes perfect sense for authoritarians to attack this vulnerability and that’s exactly why they put so much effort in trying to undermine public education and voting. As a logical construct, it can be written thusly:
WITHOUT AN EDUCATED AND PARTICIPATORY POPULACE, DEMOCRACY FAILS
WITHOUT DEMOCRACY, AUTHORITARIANISM PREVAILS
Furthermore, the delusional libertarian idea that societies can function well without government (see: Somalia) can be incorporated into this logical construct:
POWER ABHORS A VACUUM, SO GOVERNMENT IS EVERYWHERE
WHEN GOVERNMENT FAILS, ANARCHY PREVAILS
This then will be humankind’s fate in the 21st century when the death of democracy becomes realized. Where there is government, it will be authoritarian. Where there isn’t, there will be anarchy.